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ralph robert moore
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we survive in quotes
august 1, 2013
I've discovered that I enjoy taking pills.
I do have a history of wanting to take pills. There's something about the compactness of a pill held in the palm. One swallow, and your life changes. That's attractive.
In the Eighties, while we were still living in Maine, Mary and I used to take vitamin and nutrient supplements each night. Sitting around our metal kitchen table, counting out the pills into a wineglass (again, it was the Eighties.) All the different colors and shapes. And they would improve us! Allow us to live, not forever, but for a very long time. This was during the vitamin fad, where bestselling books explained how longevity just required the right mix of letters going down your throat: A, B, C, D, E. And some capsuled oils. Most of the books advocating a mega-vitamin therapy were written by happy, smiling couples, the man on the cover usually a lot older than the woman. One of the B vitamins, I forget which one, would always cause our faces to blush. Another turned our urine yellow.
But at some point, we just lost interest. Stopped swallowing.
In the early Oughts, I started taking small doses of aspirin (81 mg) each day, because that dosage does thin your blood, lowering your risk of heart attacks, strokes. As you get older, the bear is no longer on TV, flipping its front right paw up through a river's rush to ejaculate a startled fish. The bear is in your backyard, knocking over your barbeque grill.
In 2002, Mary had her stroke, and as one of many consequences of that stroke, had to start taking about a half-dozen pills each day. I'd sit at the kitchen table next to her, watching her throw her lovely head back with each swallow, and on some level, I was jealous. She got to take pills, and I didn't. Except for my stupid, unimpressive aspirin.
Not to say I wasn't beginning to feel the effects of age. Funny (or maybe that's not the right word), how you're cruising along in life without a care, and then start to notice how you've suddenly started, against your approval, the long, gradual process of shutting down.
I felt it in my right hand at first.
Both my parents had arthritis. It's a fairly common disease. I had noticed it in their hands, but of course you don't draw attention to it. You answer your father's question about how your car is running instead. But now I have it. There are all sorts of common right hand movements I can no longer make. My fingers had always been unusually nimble compared to other people (not bragging, just providing you with information), but now I have trouble tearing open the side of a case of beer, or loading bullets into a clip. Ask me to pick a penny up off a counter? President Lincoln can't be airlifted. At least not by me.
A couple of years ago, I decided to get a physical. As Mary's caregiver, I had a responsibility to make sure I was in good health for her. I knew I had high blood pressure, because every time I went to the dentist, they'd start off by measuring the pressure, and it was always high. So I needed a pill for that. (Yes!) And after a blood test, it turned out I needed another pill to lower my cholesterol. Finally, because of all the rich, spicy food I eat, I needed a third pill, to control acid reflux.
And I love it! Each day at 4:30 in the afternoon I come down from my upstairs study, where I'll be working on a writing project, fix a drink (vodka and Coca-Cola), and pop my palm against my lips three times.
You honor the dead with food.
While we were living in Maine, we drove down a couple of times to my parents' home in Connecticut. The final time, before we were about to set off on our latest road trip across America, this one lasting eighty days, I asked my mother one morning if she could cook scrambled eggs for us (mothers love granting first born sons' requests.) I had really liked them. She got flustered. I didn't know then, but found out since, she was in the early stages of Alzheimer's, and probably didn't remember how she used to make the eggs. So the next morning, when Mary and I came down to breakfast, she told us my dad had prepared the eggs instead. And they were great. The eggs I remembered from childhood. "But tomorrow, I'm going to cook them myself." Her old, confused face. How much that one quote now causes me so much sadness. I had no idea her mind was going. My mom.
And the next day, she was proud she had cooked the scrambled eggs by herself. (Actually, I realize now, she said she did. I don't know how much my dad assisted her at the stove.)
"What's the secret?"
"I always put an extra yolk in."
And so do I now, whenever Mary and I make scrambled eggs in Texas, decades later, in honor of my mom.
That was a great visit. And they wished us well, on our cross-country journey. They visited us once, in Texas. We took them to a bunch of attractions, restaurants. Paid for everything. You know how it is with adult children who love their parents: Next time, we'll take them here, and here. But there never was a next time. (One time, whenever it occurs, is always the last time, and that last time, in retrospect, is almost always a sad surprise.) The Alzheimer's got so bad she had to be placed in a rest home. I called her a couple of times from Texas, two thousand miles away, to her rest home, but such is the nature of that particularly cruel disease that I could tell she had absolutely no idea whatsoever who she was speaking to. She was still alive, headed towards death, and I wanted to say goodbye to her, who doesn't want to say goodbye to their mother before the hour of her deathbed, but she didn't have a clue who was saying goodbye, so it was meaningless.
When Mary and I were living in San Francisco, in the late Seventies, there were a couple of radio stations we'd listen to each day when we came home from work. I forget their call letters. One night, about ten in the evening, both of us high on pot, loving it, starting to think about preparing dinner, a song came on the radio, kind of an early alt-rock thing, and I just remember hearing these lyrics floating out of the radio towards us as we were cutting up red snapper under the overhead illumination of our small apartment kitchen: "He tried to give me a venereal disease by rubbing his cock over my sandwich." It is an absolutely, fucking brilliant line. And although I've tried over the decades since to discover what the song is, the band, I've never had any luck.
Isn't that what life is? Come up with a memorable line? We survive in quotes. Yolks, cocks.
Walt Whitman, one of America's many great poets, created a new way of fashioning poetry.
In section six of his poem Song of Myself, Whitman talks about grass.
After discussing different ways of describing grass, Whitman ends with this possibility:
In the final, lovely lines, Whitman talks about the dead: